“Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot.” That’s the Charlie Chaplin quote I thought of when I saw Miss Imsong’s satirical video ‘Presumptous Chinky Assumes North Indian Stereotypes’.
What a way to turn the tables on the very people who pigeonhole you into a stereotype, I thought. Imsong has cleverly taken all the stereotypes imposed on the seven (mostly ignored) Northeastern states and turned them on to the people who imposed them.
“Do you speak Sanskrit at home?”
“Moo-kesh Kej-eriwal? I think I will just call you ‘Moo.” she says in the video.
The video has come at the perfect time to take a look at the cultural stereotypes that we impose on those around us, the most recent example being the attacks on Nigerian students in Noida. People from the Northeastern states also experience racism daily.
Telling us about the racism she faces, Merenla Imsong says, “Yeah, I frequently get mistaken as a ‘Chinky’. People often ask, are you from China? Japan? But that can’t be helped, because of my features. What horrifies me is that when I say I am from Nagaland, people wonder aloud if Nagaland is a part of India, ask me to tell them ‘more about my country.'”
In the video, she similarly asks if Bihar is in Uttar Pradesh and muddles up the name of the capital of Madhya Pradesh, to highlight how North Indians are confused about Northeastern states.
I also wondered about why she had used the term ‘North Indian’ instead of just Indian. She says, “The thing is, I have lived in Delhi long enough and I also didn’t want to say the word India or say ‘mainland’ because then it would open up the Northeastern vs Mainland debate which is a very sensitive issue. Also, Delhi has a huge population of the Northeastern people, so it is more relatable”
She says she has done her best to be ‘sensitive’ about the whole issue, and how she had no political agenda behind it. “My aim was to make another comedy video for my channel. It was just me taking material that I deal with every day and turning it into a comedy sketch. All the instances in the video is something that has happened to me do seem funny, but it is sad that it happened.”
So how did Merenla come about making YouTube videos?
Working as an assistant designer in a couture fashion studio in South Mumbai, she says she has always had an affinity towards the stage.
She tells us that growing up in Kohima, the hilly capital of Nagaland, she has always wanted to be a comedian. “I always wanted to be a comedian. Even as a kid, I was mimicking people. I was the performer in the family.” She says, “I would mimic my mom, dad, and teachers. You do it front of friends, you do it in front of family. It was always something that is a part of me. Like someone who always loves singing, who always hums a tune, one day decides to be a professional singer.”
Imsong didn’t start her career on stage professionally until after college, where she studied Zoology at Hans Raj College in Delhi University. She then decided to try her luck on the stage, instead of her initial dream to become a scientist.
Theatre is Merenla’s first love. She says, “I really love being on stage. The feeling you get when you are on stage, performing is exhilarating. That’s always been my first love. To perform onstage.”
To follow her dream of being a theatre artist, Merenla made the move to Mumbai three years ago. In 2015 she acted in a 10-minute play in Prithvi Theatre Festival in the series called ‘The Carnival.’ Her play was titled Akhuni, and was directed by Ratnabali Bhattacharjee. The title of the performance refers to a fermented soybean popular in Nagaland, with an intense umami flavour that reaches right to the nostrils like a kick of wasabi.
Apart from theatre, Merenla has also worked in an SBI commercial. She tells us about how the commercial came to be, “One day a casting agent just called me and asked me if I would like to do a commercial. The director said you will be playing a hair stylist who is so passionate about her job, that even if she gets a customer who is almost bald, she will style him with panache. And I really liked the brief, so I was in.”
Viral Video Fame
From being a theatre actress, how did she come about making the Miss Imsong Facebook page?
“I used to love mimicking. So once my cousin took a video of me doing a few different accents, and that was widely circulated. I got a really good response and my cousin told me, ‘Hey why don’t you open a Facebook page.’ and I did.”
She tells us that the hardest part about YouTube is the feedback and comments on her videos. “There are so many negative things that people say, so many things from my sketch are blown out of proportion. But then whenever someone says something negative, someone else comes to the rescue.”
As for the future of the channel, she says, “Well I want to keep doing what I do (designing clothes) and then work on the Facebook page on my free time.”
She says, “I am just going to keep churching out content as and when I am inspired to make something. That’s why I don’t want full time fulltime, because I don’t want the pressure of putting up a video on me. When comedy is forced, people know.”
On that note, here is her videos: